As bye weeks go, I have to admit Week 5 wasn't particularly frightening for fantasy owners, and this pending week won't torture us too much. Last week, among the big names missing were Tony Romo and Ray Rice, but I think we can say we survived without players from the Cleveland Browns, St. Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins. This week isn't so bad either: Losing key San Diego Chargers isn't fun, but after that it's an underwhelming Chris Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and -- wait for it -- the hero Tim Tebow. In other words, it's not that big a deal.
Next week is a big deal, though. And since I'm a planner, and the Friday blog is about precisely that, looking ahead and making your sneaky pickups in advance not of this coming Sunday but future ones, I feel compelled to recommend you plan for Week 7 before Week 6 even begins. You won't have Tom Brady or Wes Welker next week. You won't have the awesome Fred Jackson, leading all running backs in standard scoring so far, or wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and A.J. Green. And say what you will about the bumbling, stumbling 1-4 Philadelphia Eagles, but from a fantasy sense it's not such a bad Dream Team, with the No. 6 quarterback, No. 2 running back, two top-15 wide receivers and a defense that lets everyone else score. They're on bye, too.
Before focusing on long-term pickups available in nearly every league, as per standard for this Friday blog entry, here are some names to think about picking up today in advance of Week 7, rather than next Wednesday when everyone else in your league will be scrambling as well:
Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck (versus Houston Texans in Week 7), Rex Grossman (at Carolina Panthers), Curtis Painter (at New Orleans Saints), Tim Tebow (at Miami Dolphins). Personally, I like Tebow to make a difference, and Painter could put up numbers when he's down three scores early.
Running back: Jackie Battle (at Oakland Raiders), Delone Carter (at New Orleans Saints), Earnest Graham (versus Chicago Bears), Isaac Redman (at Arizona Cardinals). Wow, not much here. I'll discuss the Buccaneers later, but clearly Battle should be chosen. If the Chiefs were playing this weekend, he would have been added in many more leagues. Don't wait.
Wide receiver: Danario Alexander (at Dallas Cowboys), Doug Baldwin (at Cleveland Browns), Nate Burleson (versus Atlanta Falcons), Davone Bess (versus Denver Broncos), Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore (versus Kansas City Chiefs), Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones (at Tennessee Titans). Frankly, there's plenty here. I'm guessing most flex spots will be filled with wide receivers in Week 7, perhaps all bye weeks.
Defense: Dallas Cowboys (versus St. Louis Rams), Tennessee Titans (versus Houston Texans).
As for looking ahead to future weeks, when all teams will be in action and the fantasy football world will be a better place, here are some names that I have my eye on. All are available in at least 95 percent of ESPN standard leagues. Last week I discussed St. Louis Rams wide receiver Mark Clayton (he could enjoy that Dallas Cowboys defense in Week 7!) and Jackie Battle, and mentioned Doug Baldwin and Jake Ballard, among others.
Greg Little, WR, Cleveland Browns: I originally had him on my Week 7 sleeper list, but now that he's been named a starter, I like him this Sunday against an Oakland Raiders defense allowing the 12th-most fantasy points to wide receivers. I think he'll be in relative free-agent demand next week. Little is a big, physical player who can get downfield, and perhaps this will convince Colt McCoy to air it out more.
Eddie Royal, WR, Denver Broncos: With pending free agent Brandon Lloyd apparently on the trade block, it opens opportunity for Royal or second-year man Demaryius Thomas to play alongside Eric Decker. Thomas is the former first-round pick with huge upside who can't stay healthy. Royal isn't exactly old himself. He's a short-range possession guy, something I think favors him to work well with Tim Tebow. And Royal did catch 91 passes in 2008, 59 last season.
Mossis Madu, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Who? Well, consider the current running back situation for the Bucs. LeGarrette Blount injured his MCL. That could take a while to heal. Graham is the obvious pickup. But he's 31, dealing with a sore hamstring and last rushed for 100 yards in a season in 2008. He can catch the football, though. I've seen second backup Kregg Lumpkin play. He hasn't impressed. Rookie Allen Bradford might have gotten a shot, but he was surprisingly cut Thursday.
Madu is a speedy, undrafted rookie from Oklahoma, where he didn't exactly star, and is currently on the team's practice squad. He could be promoted any minute. And if it seems unlikely an undrafted fellow would make an impact in Tampa Bay, note that Blount didn't get drafted, either. My point is that it's possible Blount can't play until Thanksgiving; I'm skeptical about Graham and Lumpkin, and there's opportunity for an unknown fellow with speed. Perhaps the Bucs will sign Brian Westbrook or Clinton Portis instead. In a 16-team league, watch what the Bucs do. After all, Blount didn't emerge until Week 6 last season.